Let There Be Rock: What Dragonflies Taught Me About Practicing Drums
Today in the little park, the pug was sniffing around and I sat myself down in the morning sun. All was quiet except for construction noise a little ways away. It’s San Francisco, where some rich person is always building something.
I guess I hit the right hour for dragonflies, because there were a number of them zipping around the park. So beautiful and careeningly free. I recalled Thoreau and his thoughts about the innocence of nature. I remembered that dragonflies have sex mid-flight and flashed on the word “ecstatic.” At that moment, I saw a dragonfly just pop out of the air. One minute, barreling through the sky, one minute, gone. It was funny, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary that it, flying, would vanish in front of my eyes. They’re so chaotic and authoritative that surprise wasn’t my first response.
I pushed aside the desire for an explanation born in this reality. I thought of that giant particle accelerator in Switzerland, and how scientists discovered particles that would just disappear, and then mysteriously show up somewhere else. Or how they found out that one particle could be in two places at once. I loved reading about that, because it seems to be perfect proof that we really have no idea what reality is. If the same thing can be in two places at once, doesn’t that negate everything?
So I spent a little time sitting there, thinking about that dragonfly and how it just blipped out. I imagined a small pocket of molecules that arranged space and time in a different way, and as he flitted across the park he found that little wormhole and in an instant was transported to a whole different part of the park entirely, or a different year even. I was thinking that maybe this sort of thing happens all the time, but that because we have such a fixed idea of reality, we just never notice. Like the story of the indigenous people, how when they saw the explorer’s ships, it took them several days to even recognize that anything was there on the horizon. Those ships didn’t exist in their reality, so they just didn’t see them.
I love that story. I love looking around thinking, what is here that I am not seeing because I don’t expect to see it? I imagine alien spaceships hanging in the sky above me. I imagine the deceased walking among us. I imagine wormhole portals that would be so easy to use, if I could only see them. Maybe things are coming and going, popping in and out all the time.
Anyway, late morning I went to the studio and was sort of lazy about what I wanted to work on. I thought I’d put on an AC/DC song for a change. There are a couple of songs that I was never able to play well when I was playing in an AC/DC band, and now and then I revisit them, see if I can make any headway.
The songs I could never manage are the very up-tempo ones. Phil Rudd knocks me out, because playing AC/DC is a lesson in how to swing. People are always talking about how basic those beats are, but YOU try playing four on the floor and making a stadium full of people lose their minds. It’s all about how that hi hat swings. The way he plays it, he could move anyone to dance.
At those fast tempos, I psych myself out. My wrist gets tired quickly, I start holding the stick like a cavewoman, and all the feel goes away. I sound like I don’t know how to play drums.
I turned on “Let There Be Rock” and immediately had that familiar defeated feeling and wanted to give up. I sat there for a minute, and the dragonfly came to mind; I guess he found that wormhole again and now here he was in my head. What about this reality am I not seeing? Here I am, with this feeling of dread, knowing that my wrist is going to tense and I’ll give up mid-way through. I could anticipate that familiar feeling of shame and defeat.
I thought, okay, well what if the thing I’m not seeing is that the song as actually really easy? If I thought the song were really easy, what would happen. My body would relax completely. I’d feel joy in the movement. What if I just Play The Fucking Song and stop stressing out about it?
I put it on… it’s an infinite song for another thing, which is what makes it such a beast. That’s a long time to play something so fast. Never mind! It doesn’t matter how long the song is, if it’s easy and joyful, then I can play forever. I took a deep breath and just started that hi hat swing. I made sure to keep breathing deeply and evenly. I felt my hand and my wrist. I felt the blood warm in my veins and the tendons loose and limber. Every time I had a twinge of stress, sometimes in my forearm, sometimes in my wrist, sometimes in my shoulder, sometimes in my back, sometimes in my stomach, I just relaxed that area and breathed into it. I just breathed. I just relaxed. I kept thinking, I Love To Play This Song.
About halfway through, I noticed that I was feeling some joy, but I tried not to get too wrapped up in it. I didn’t want to jinx it. It occurred to me that it might be better to notice when I felt peaceful. Just feel really peaceful while I play this song that I love, that I love to play.
I played it all the way through, kept the swing up, and ended the song in a state of bliss.
All done! I’m going home, mission accomplished.
Not really. I congratulated myself for a bit and then started banging out some other stuff that drives me nuts. What a wonderful process it is, this learning. Let there be rock indeed! Thank you little dragonfly. I hope you’re in some alternate reality, having sex right now.
 “I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out of existence like pulp — tadpoles which herons gobble up, and tortoises and toads run over in the road; and that sometimes it has rained flesh and blood! With the liability to accident, we must see how little account is to be made of it. The impression made on a wise man is that of universal innocence.” Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau. http://thoreau.eserver.org/walden17.html